A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 5 matchup with the Patriots.
Through the first quarter of the 2017 season, Kendell Beckwith is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' leading tackler with 36, 32 of which are solo stops. It wasn't supposed to be that way.
Beckwith's spot at the top of the Bucs' tackle chart is the result of his own outstanding play plus some specific injury fortune, both good and bad. The good is Beckwith himself; the knee injury he suffered at LSU last November caused him to drop to the third round of the draft and was thought to possibly delay the start of his NFL career. Instead, he started his rookie training camp without limitations, about eight months after the injury, and was ready to go opening weekend. The bad injury news followed, as Kwon Alexander went down with a hamstring injury late in the Bucs' opener and Lavonte David sprained an ankle the following weekend.
Beckwith, who started the season's first game at strongside linebacker, has moved into the middle during Alexander's protracted absence. He also became part of the two-LB nickel package, with David initially and then with Adarius Glanton. It's not a stretch to say that Beckwith, who has all of four regular-season games as an NFL player, has held the middle of the Buccaneers' defense together during what could have been a disastrous stretch with two of the team's best players shelved.
Particularly effective against the run, Beckwith has been a tackling machine, averaging more than 10 stops a game since he moved into the middle. The only Buccaneer ever to have more solo tackles through the first four games of a season, according to Pro Football Reference (PRF), is the man he's replacing, Kwon Alexander. Alexander's top mark came last year, in his second season, making Beckwith the highest-ranking rookie on the list. That honor used to belong to his other current linebacker running mate, Lavonte David. Most Solo Tackles, First Four Games of a Season, Buccaneers
|1. Kwon Alexander||LB||2016||34|
|2. Kendell Beckwith||LB||2017||32|
|3t. Lavonte David||LB||2014||31|
|3t. Mason Foster||LB||2012||31|
|5. Lavonte David||LB||2012||28|
It's fair to note that all of those totals have come in the current decade. Tackles have never been an "official" NFL statistic and they have been compiled in different ways through the years. However, the compilation has been standardized in recent year, using the totals gathered by on-site stat crews during games, so they are useful for comparisons of current and recent players. As such, it's at least encouraging to see Beckwith grouped with two legitimate Buccaneer stars, Alexander and David. Eventually, when the latter two players return, those three may form one of the most productive linebacking corps in the entire NFL.
Beckwith's 14 tackles in last Thursday night's contest against the Patriots were the most compiled in a single game by a rookie since David had 16 at Oakland on Nov. 4, 2012. His 12 solo stops are the most by any Buccaneer player since Alexander had 15 in last year's opening-day win at Atlanta (Sept. 11, 2016). It is one of just four games by a Buccaneer defender in the last five years to feature double-digit solo tackles, again according to PFR. Most Solo Tackles, Game, Buccaneers, 2013-17
|1. Kwon Alexander||LB||@ATL||9/11/16||15|
|2. Kendell Beckwith||LB||NE||10/5/17||12|
|3t. Mark Barron||S||NO||9/15/13||10|
|3t. Lavonte David||LB||@PIT||9/28/14||10|
Beckwith is on pace to record 144 tackles by the end of the season
. While the eventual returns of Alexander and David will likely cost him some snaps – those two form a very good nickel-package duo – the rookie should continue to have a prominent role in the Bucs' defense. Beckwith is on pace for 128 solo tackles, which would be a new record for the Buccaneers. He doesn't have to hit that mark in order to set a new team record for rookies. Here are the players he's chasing, unsurprisingly led by David, according to PFR.
Most Solo Tackles, Rookie Season, Buccaneers
|1. Lavonte David||LB||2012||112|
|2. Tony Covington||S||1991||84|
|3. Rod Jones||CB||1986||80|
|4. Mark Barron||S||2012||72|
|5. Santana Dotson||DT||1992||71|
Beckwith has been a key part in a defensive improvement that the team made a focal point over the offseason: Becoming more stout against the run. Tampa Bay allowed 117.2 rushing yards per game and 4.39 yards per carry last year. Through the first four games of 2017, those numbers have shrunk to 87.3 yards per game and 3.36 yards per carry. As a team, the Buccaneers have shown the seventh-largest reduction in their yards-per-carry mark in the league from 2016 to 2017. Yards Per Carry Allowed, Biggest Improvement from 2016 to 2017
Beckwith leads all NFL rookies this season in both total tackles and solo stops. He is the only rookie to already top 30 tackles, according to PFR, even though he's played one fewer game than most of them.
NFL's Top Rookie Tacklers, 2017
|1. Kendell Beckwith||TB||LB||4||32||4||36|
|2. Zach Cunningham||HOU||LB||5||13||14||27|
|3t. Shaquill Griffin||SEA||CB||5||21||4||25|
|3t. Jamal Adams||NYJ||S||5||18||7||25|
|5t. TreDavious White||BUF||CB||5||19||4||23|
|5t. Marcus Maye||NYJ||S||5||18||5||23|
|5t. Jarrad Davis||DET||LB||3||16||7||23|
|8t. Jourdain Lewis||DAL||CB||4||19||3||22|
|9t. Josh Jones||GB||S||5||19||2||21|
|9t. Adoree' Jackson||TEN||CB||5||18||3||21|
|9t. Jabrill Peppers||CLE||S||5||16||5||21|
One round before they grabbed Beckwith in the 2017 draft, the Buccaneers picked safety Justin Evans out of Texas A&M. With both Keith Tandy and T.J. Ward out with hip injuries last week, Evans joined Beckwith in the starting lineup. Evans ended the Patriots' first drive of the game with a diving interception, becoming the seventh rookie in franchise history to pick off a pass in his first career start (not including 1987 replacement players). The other six were cornerback Leonard Johnson (2012), safety Melvin Johnson (1995), safety Marty Carter (1991), safety Odie Harris (1988), safety Ray Isom (1987) and linebacker Cecil Johnson (1977).
Evans's pick ended a string of 264 straight passes without an interception for New England quarterback Tom Brady, dating back to the 2016 season. Evans is the first rookie to record an interception off Brady in three years, the last being New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams on Dec. 21, 2014.
Not a rookie? Gerald McCoy, the veteran defensive tackle and anchor of the Buccaneers' defense. McCoy recorded six quarterback pressures through Tampa Bay's first three games of the season but was held without a sack. He got that first sack of the season on Thursday night, taking down Brady. That pushed his career total to 43.5 sacks, still the fourth-most in franchise history. McCoy has posted 34.5 sacks since the start of the 2013 season, which ranks first in the NFL among defensive tackles in that span.
Most Sacks, Defensive Tackles, NFL, 2013-17
|1. Gerald McCoy||TB||63||34.5|
|2. Geno Atkins||CIN||62||33.0|
|3. Jurrell Casey||TEN||67||29.5|
|4. Aaron Donald *||LAR||52||29.0|
|5. Ndamukong Suh||DET/MIA||68||26.0|
- Entered league in 2014
McCoy also batted down one of Brady's passes on Thursday night, his first of the season and his 14th in that same time span (2013-17). He's in the top five among defensive tackles in the last five seasons in that category, as well.
|1t. Malik Jackson||DEN/JAX||69||20|
|1t. Ndamukong Suh||DET/MIA||68||20|
|3. Haloti Ngata||BAL/DET||59||17|
|4. Sen'Derrick Marks||JAX||52||15|
|5. Gerald McCoy||TB||63||14|